Recently a company called “Bodega” has hit the headlines. Their aim was to use technology (fancy vending machines) to destroy bodegas and mom ‘n pop shops (dairies, for New Zealanders) across America. This is another tech company who is completely missing humanity in their vision for the future.
Apple get a lot of flack for their “we live at the cross-section of liberal arts and technology” manifesto but it’s one that’s deeply true for the company, and imperative to their success. Being great in technology (and business) means understanding the world we live in. Apple do. This is one of the reasons I was deeply proud to work at Apple.
Part of that reality, that much of the civic world is finally waking up to, is the importance of vibrant streets to the health of a city, and its people. Technology, especially the automobile, has been destroying cities for decades. We let special interest groups, money, and “convenience” blind us to the societal effects of adopting these technologies.
Local governments have woken up to this recently, and the work that was started by Jane Jacobs in the ’60s is starting to become commonplace in the world. Strong communities are vital to the health of a city. Vibrant streets are vital to the health of the communities in a city. And brick and mortar retail stores are essential to that vibrant fabric that results in the diversity of life required to keep streets alive. Small to medium sized retail stores allow for small city blocks, and frequent spots of interest along any route. They provide many eyes, or safety, and accomodate the right mix of primary use on every block to keep streets active at all times of the day.
Vend’s vision for retail fits beautifully within that reality. Other companies, like Bodega (and even some of our competitors), want to create a world much different to the one (by most accounts) we’ve all decided we want. They don’t just have to compete with Vend to make that happen — they also have to convince society that we want the bleaker vision of the future that they’re offering.
Big box retailers destroy cities. Big box retailers will be destroyed by the likes of Amazon (and this is good for cities). But small, brick and mortar retail stores that are woven into their communities. They’re here to stay. And I’m proud to serve them by working at Vend. I’m proud of the way our vision exists to enrich not just the lives of our retailers, but to enrich our cities, and all of our lives by extension.
As technologists, and especially as designers, we can choose what type of problems we want to solve, and how we want to solve them. But we have to remember that the choices we make impact far more than just us. If you want to help build a stronger future for our communities by helping local retailers, come join us, cause we’re hiring.